Are you a Californian looking to save on your monthly grocery bill? Maybe you’ve considered the coupon thing—you even downloaded Target’s Cartwheel app—but it all seems too confusing?

Grocery prices in Northern California are some of the highest in the continental United States. They’re even higher than Southern California! Plus, as we Cali homegirls already know, double coupons have never been our thing in NorCal—not even during the pre-2011 Extreme Couponing boom.

So, what’s the best way to save money besides relocating to rural Ohio? I’m gonna break it down for you by store. Trust me. I’ve lived here. I made it work and saved thousands of dollars a year shopping at these stores:

 

Target

I’m about to run through the local supermarket chains for you, but as I said above, grocery prices in Northern California are significantly higher than other markets, so I’m including a national chain like Target because it’s an especially good place to buy groceries in NorCal. Here’s why:

Target sales go live each Sunday and run for one week. The best deals are gift card promotions where you buy two items and get a $5 Target gift card to use on your next purchase. By combining those promos with printable coupons from the Krazy Coupon Lady app and percent-discounts from the Target Cartwheel app, you can save 50-70% on over fifty items every week at Target. Find out more about how to coupon at Target.

Loyalty card? No, but signing up for the Target debit card saves you 5% on every purchase with no credit check.

App? Yes. Two of them: Target app and Cartwheel app

Best things to buy: pantry staples, household plus health and beauty

Deals begin: Sundays

Pricing/promos: gift card promos, BOGOs and free product deals

BEST FOR: EVERY. DANG. THING. Have you seen our Target deals?

 

Safeway

Safeway is a perfect example of a high-low grocery store. Regular prices here are high—higher than a steady low price place like Walmart. But Safeway’s weekly sales, which begin every Wednesday, are cheaper than everyday Walmart prices.

The secret to shopping Safeway is planning your trip around what’s on sale and getting out without filling your cart full of regular price items.

Sign up for a Club Card and join Just For U to access exclusive sale prices. Just like Club Card savings gets you a $2.49 price on Planters nuts instead of $4.99, Just For U sometimes has an even better price for its members—$1.69 for the same jar of peanuts. (Find more Safeway deals.)

Look for in-ad coupons ($5 off $50). Shop Mix & Match sales where you must by four participating items to get the low price. Safeway does Friday-only deals, which are especially good for cereal—don’t miss those.

Loyalty card? Yes: Club Card

App? Yes: Safeway app

Best things to buy: pantry staples, household, plus health and beauty

Deals begin: Wednesdays

Pricing/promos: gift card promos, BOGOs and free product deals.

BEST FOR: COUPON SHOPPERS WILLING TO SHOP AT TWO STORES PER WEEK.

 

WinCo

If you’re not gonna coupon, WinCo is the cheapest place to buy groceries. WinCo is what I call a “no frills” grocery store. It’s a warehouse-style, bag-your-own-groceries store that doesn’t take credit cards.

Your best strategy for saving at WinCo is paying attention to the green sale tags and stocking up when you see a price drop. Watch for the “Wall of Values” at the entrance of the store. These items have been purchased in bulk for a low price, and WinCo passes the savings on to its customers.

Sale prices tend to last approximately three weeks and are determined by the quantity purchased by your local store. WinCo also competes with other local grocers, especially Walmart. WinCo prices will fluctuate as they try to match or beat Walmart.

WinCo accepts printable coupons, plus they have a few printable WinCo store coupons you can stack with manufacturer coupons. These carry the “WinCo Foods” logo if it’s a store coupon. The other coupons you see on this website are manufacturer coupons. (Find all the best WinCo deals.)

Loyalty card? No

App? No, but the Shops app helps you navigate the store if you’re new.

Best things to buy: Food. In good conscience, I can’t recommend buying household and beauty anywhere other than the national stores using the coupons you’ll find using the KCL app.

Deals begin: Wednesdays

Pricing/promos: gift card promos, BOGOs, and free product deals

BEST FOR: PEOPLE WHO DON’T WANT TO HASSLE WITH COUPONS.

 

Trader Joe’s

The next best option for those interested in avoiding coupons (pffft…) is Trader Joe’s. If you want organic, gluten-free, or cage-free food, there’s no better place to save moolah than TJ’s.

Trader Joe’s store label is one of the top three best store labels in the country (tied with Whole Foods’ 365 and Costco’s Kirkland Signature) and they’re famously secretive about where their products are manufactured. But that’s because Stacey’s brand pita chips doesn’t want you to know that they’re the ones making the same chips with the TJ’s label.

Look for new products in the monthly newsletter/comic book called the Fearless Flyer. You can either pick it up at the store, or subscribe via USPS or email.

And the best thing about Trader Joe’s? Sample any product in the store for free. Learn more ways to save at Trader Joe’s.

Loyalty card? No

App? No, don’t be fooled by third party apps available in the App Store on your phone. They aren’t done by Trader Joe’s.

Best things to buy: $2 Charles Shaw wine, $0.19/ea bananas, convenience foods like crackers, cheese, chocolate, nuts

Deals begin: Mid-Month

Pricing/promos: few sales, no gimmicks

BEST FOR: SMALL HOUSEHOLDS; HEALTHY EATERS.

 

 

SaveMart

SaveMart is a lot like Safeway. But it’s a little cheaper and sales aren’t quite as frequent.

SaveMart’s Save Smart Rewards Program is an unconventional loyalty program where you earn a point for every dollar spent and then redeem those points on a dozen or so products. A couple of examples of what your reward points will get you are 3 lbs of free bananas for 200 points ($200 spent) or $5 off your next transaction for 500 points ($500).

Load manufacturer coupons directly to your SaveMart account using their free app. Coupon discounts show up automatically when you enter your phone number at checkout.

Best deals at SaveMart are BOGOs on products like fresh strawberries or Adams Peanut Butter and gift card promotions like $5 off your next order when you buy a $25 gift card. Also watch for discounts when you stock up, like a $5 meat sale when you buy five or more.

Loyalty card? Yes: Save Smart Rewards

App? Yes: SaveMart app

Best things to buy: Yoplait, Del Monte, meat

Deals begin: Wednesdays

Pricing/promos: lots of sales in exchange for buying multiples

BEST FOR: COUPON SHOPPERS WITHOUT A SAFEWAY NEARBY.

 

Cash & Carry

Cash & Carry caters to restaurateurs, but it’s open to the public. There’s no membership or minimum order requirement. But an extra freezer is almost a prerequisite for shopping here!

You won’t be able to get everything on your list at Cash & Carry, but the items you do find will be cheap! Cash & Carry is best for cheese (a 5 lb block of Tillamook is cheaper than Costco), spices, and my favorite: $5 fresh wreaths at Christmastime.

Register for emails to get the “hot sheet” specials in your inbox. Many hot sheet specials beat Costco prices.

Loyalty card? No

App? Um…no. Not even close.

Best things to buy: cheese, frozen fruit and veggies, spices, paper products

Deals begin: Mondays

Pricing/promos: good sales, no promotions

BEST FOR: LARGE HOUSEHOLDS, ESPECIALLY THOSE WITHOUT A COSTCO MEMBERSHIP.

 

Food Maxx

Food Maxx is another bag-your-own-groceries supermarket. Its prices are similar to WinCo, but there’s a weekly ad, and in it you’ll find sales and in-ad coupons, which you can stack with manufacturer coupons. Plus, unlike WinCo they’ll take a credit card.

This store is especially good for produce, namely veggies popular in latino dishes like avocados, cilantro, tomatoes, and onions! Food Maxx also has good prices on baking staples like sugar and meats. Look for orange stickers discounting the meat, then stock up and freeze.

Loyalty card? No

App? No

Best things to buy: meat, veggies, baking supplies

Deals begin: Every other Wednesday

Pricing/promos: in-ad coupons and bi-weekly sales

BEST FOR: BUDGET SHOPPERS, ESPECIALLY THOSE WITHOUT A WINCO NEARBY.

 

 

Costco

I bet you’re familiar with Costco and its $55 annual fee, which gets you exclusive access to discount pricing on bulk foods.

Listen, I’m a Costco member. I shop there probably six times a year and I save some money. But the danger with Costco comes when you’re tempted to make it your primary grocery store. While many items at Costco are a good deal, half the items there are not.

Costco doesn’t take manufacturer coupons, but you can save more by using rebate apps like Ibotta and by paying with discounted gift cards from Raise.com. (Browse Costco deals.)

Best items to buy at Costco are baking staples like vanilla, yeast, and cooking spray. Condiments, produce, and dairy are other safe categories. Rotisserie chicken and Kirkland toilet paper are the best deals in the store. See all the best items to buy at Costco.

Avoid crackers and cereals. And above all else, don’t buy razors, body washes, shampoos, and other personal hygiene items. See all the worst items to buy at Costco.

Loyalty card? No, but a Costco membership card is $55/year.

App? Yes: Costco app. But it’s not necessary and I don’t recommend it.

Best things to buy: pure vanilla extract, rotisserie chicken, Kirkland toilet paper

Deals begin: First of the month

Pricing/promos: monthly coupons, now applied automatically, no coupon booklet needed

BEST FOR: THOSE WITH SELF-RESTRAINT!

 

Raley’s

Raley’s is the highest-end grocery store on my list. They’re going for a Whole Foods meets traditional supermarket vibe. Here you’ll find higher-quality meats, cheeses, and wines. They’ve also got a deli stocked with pre-made lunches, pastries, and ready-to-heat meals. None of that is going to help you save money, though.

Raley’s does offer personalized coupons for members of their Something Extra loyalty program. Plus, Something Extra members get points on every purchase which earn quarterly grocery vouchers.

In addition to Something Extra store offers, Raley’s accepts manufacturer coupons. Look for $5 Monday one-day sales and BOGOs, then add coupons and Ibotta rebates. This formula makes for pretty good deals, especially for cheese, OJ, coffee, meat, and produce.

Loyalty card? Yes: Something Extra

App? Yes, but it’s bad. Don’t download it.

Best things to buy: cheese, OJ, coffee, meat, and produce

Deals begin: Wednesdays

Pricing/promos: one-day sales, BOGOs, and buy-more-save-more offers

BEST FOR: THOSE WILLING TO SHOP THREE STORES PER WEEK IN ORDER TO CHERRY-PICK RALEY’S ONE-DAY DEALS.

 

UP NEXT: What to Do if Your Coupon Is Rejected

Best Places to Grocery Shop in Northern CA